An Open Letter to Ben Affleck
Dear Ben Affleck,
We don’t know each other, though we’re sort of neighbors. You live in Cambridge. I’m just down the road in Arlington.
And I get where you’re coming from. You more than do your civic duty when it comes to advocating for issues ranging from your own East Congo Initiative to hunger in America and caring for our veterans. You’re what my grandmother Annie Rosenthal would have called “a real mensch.”
I also understand that your film career is finally where you want it to be. After a few years of teetering on the edge of smug self-parody, you’ve emerged as a serious player, an actor and director who works on films that are commercially successful and socially relevant. With “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Town,” and now the Oscar-nominated “Argo,” you’re riding an epic hot streak. Why quit now to pursue the uncertain dividends of national politics?
In other words, I get that this is a tough pitch, which is why I’m offering six reasons for you to reconsider.
1. You’re being offered a higher calling and deep down you know it, mister.
Back in 2001, you said this about your political ambitions: “My fantasy is that someday I’m independently wealthy enough that I’m not beholden to anybody, so I can run for Congress on the grounds that everyday people should be in government.”
You were right back then, Ben. The reason Washington has become so dysfunctional is because it’s filled with hacks and proto-lobbyists. In fact, the right wing’s basic agenda is to break government, then shout about how broken it is.
Think of the message you’d be sending about the importance of government if you chose to leave Hollywood at the top of your game, to work for the greater good of the country.
I laud all the efforts you’ve made as a private citizen. But think of the difference you could make in, for instance, East Congo, as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
JFK said it best, Ben. Ask not what your country can do for you …
2. The timing is right—and timing is everything.
I get that you’d prefer not to spend six years out of the biz. But how about a year and a half to see if political life agrees with you? The special election presents a rare opportunity to test the waters without risk of drowning.
More fundamentally, you’d be entering the Senate in the midst of a progressive renaissance. Thanks to the paranoid rightward lurch of the corporate-sponsored GOP, many Americans are ready to embrace common-sense solutions on a host of issues from immigration to tax policy.
A guy with your eloquence, moral fiber and star-power — working with President Obama — could help lead the charge.
3. You would make a great candidate and politician.
This is no knock against your chosen profession, but face it: anyone who can thrive in an ecosystem as craven and narcissistically corrupt as Hollywood is ready for the campaign trail and the capital.
Politics in the modern age isn’t about the minutiae of drafting policy. It’s about the drama of public gestures, staging moments that can capture the public imagination and awaken the better angels of their nature.
It’s about stagecraft, in other words. You’d kill it.
4. You would have plenty of downtime.
The Senate is often called a deliberative body, which is something of a slander against the word “deliberation.” Thanks to the perpetual Republican abuse of the filibuster, very little gets done.
Senators spend much of their time fundraising and campaigning, onerous tasks you wouldn’t have to worry about.
The bottom line is that you’d be able to read plenty of scripts, do a few carefully selected cameos, keep yourself in the game.
5. If Arnold Schwarzenegger can do it, so can you.
6. Your children (and mine) are counting on you.
Look, Ben, you’re a smart guy. And your films shine a light on the crucial issues facing this country.
But we’re living in a precarious historical moment, one in which the fate of the species hangs in the balance. The threat to our planet isn’t some hokey asteroid fantasia cooked up by Michael Bay.
It’s global warming, dwindling energy, overpopulation, plague, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Unless America — the most powerful nation on earth — can start to lead on these issues, our kids (and a lot of other kids) are going to be in real trouble. They already are.
If you want to be a real hero, a guy who doesn’t just entertain us but changes hearts and minds and laws and maybe even our collective fate, your chance has arrived.
I hope you’ll think long and hard before dismissing this letter.